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Philip Morris International Uses Deadly Volcano as Marketing Tool in Indonesia

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
November 09, 2010

Washington, D.C. — It is truly appalling that Philip Morris International and its Indonesian subsidiary, Sampoerna, are taking advantage of the deadly volcano eruption in Indonesia as a marketing opportunity.

According to a news report published by GlobalPost, an on-line international news agency, Sampoerna — Indonesia's largest tobacco company — is sponsoring a Sampoerna Rescue camp on the slopes of the erupting Mount Merapi in Java. According to the report, the camp has 'flashy four-wheel drive vehicles' with the Sampoerna logo parked in front of the camp, and staff members wear red and black uniforms covered with company logos. The report quotes local residents and evacuees calling for the marketing to be removed.

The real purpose of this so-called 'corporate social responsibility' campaign is to counter the tobacco company's well-deserved negative image from selling deadly and addictive products and build political goodwill that is used to oppose effective measures to reduce tobacco use, as Philip Morris International and Sampoerna have done so effectively in Indonesia. Their bottom line is to sell more tobacco products and boost profits no matter the cost in health and lives.

Cigarette companies have engaged in similar activities after previous tragedies in Indonesia, including the 2004 earthquake and tsunami. In the United States, Philip Morris in 2001 was exposed as having spent more on advertising to publicize its charitable donations that it actually gave to charities.

Sadly, these strategies have been very effective in Indonesia, which has one of the world's worst tobacco problems and some of the weakest tobacco control laws. The severity of the country's tobacco epidemic was graphically illustrated by video of the 'smoking baby' — a two-year-old Indonesian boy deeply addicted to cigarettes — that circulated worldwide earlier this year. Tobacco use kills an estimated 200,000 Indonesians each year, and approximately 35 percent of the population smokes. More than three-quarters of Indonesian smokers started before the age of 19.

We call on Philip Morris International and all tobacco companies to immediately cease their 'corporate responsibility campaigns' and to stop opposing measures to reduce tobacco use in Indonesia and other countries. We also urge governments to reject the companies' efforts to wield influence and to enact proven measures to reduce tobacco use, as called for by the international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. These measures include higher tobacco taxes, 100 percent smoke-free workplace laws, large, graphic health warnings on tobacco products and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.